lori vrba – safekeeping

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Lori Vrba


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Safekeeping: the act of keeping safe or the state of being kept safe; protection; care; custody.

I’ve spent the last year exploring the desire to protect that which is, or is perceived to be, vulnerable or sacred. As a mother to three young children I am present not only to the maternal urge to lock away the sensuality of a young girl or the exposed emotions of an adolescent boy, but also that they, like all humans, have feelings, secrets, treasures, and relationships that are for safekeeping. Innocence, love, memories… even the earth itself is vulnerable. With this project, I am examining what we want to protect, how we do that and when it is simply impossible. I love exploring this idea with the camera, given that a photograph is, in and of itself, safekeeping: holding a parcel of time.

I work in medium format black and white film, which I process myself.  I print each image in a traditional wet darkroom on 16X20 fibre based paper, which I then tone in tea and selenium.


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Lori Vrba

79 Responses to “lori vrba – safekeeping”

  • 9 10 13 14 18 Stunning. I like your factual statement about how you process and print your work. There is sincerity in your images as well in the way you communicate the method in which you work. Beautiful.

  • A classic Victorian mythical experience. So pre Raphaelit. Love it!

  • whoa! today is looking up!
    thank you for the kind words. this project has been deeply personal and one of the first that i have seriously committed to. it is wonderful to have it well received.

  • stunning.
    almost magical.
    i detect warmth in these images but also at times a subtle sadness, as if the subject’s/or your preciousness is to be taken away.
    i really enjoyed this piece! thanks!

  • There are some really beautiful images here. Nicely done!

  • Very good images. Very well done. I’m not sure many of them convey “safe” to me, but there is no question these are excellent fine-art photos. Enjoyed the essay.

  • hey jim…you are right…i’m not always looking to convey what is safe. sometimes i’m attempting to convey vulnerability, or a memory of my own or loss. i can see that not everyone will read every image in the same way i do. its interesting!

  • lori

    brilliant.. three children and still using the darkroom.. busy busy busy and finding time for the slowest of processes..

  • lori, yes. I guess it is vulnerability rather than safety that I see. Either way, very well done!

  • Magical,

    Lori your images shine like precious jewels. Your passion is evident in every image. I just love your outlook on life too.

    A breath of fresh air to me…..

  • Lori- these pictures put me in a safe, magical place, where the pressures and realities of the outside world don’t matter…scenes from Chronicles of Narnia and other childhood stories come to mind. Thanks for doing this “work,” if that’s even an appropriate term.

    I assume you create most of these scenes? Are any of them documentary moments?

    The only thing is (and this is more for DAH) I can’t see the whole picture on my screen at once. I’m on a decent size laptop with standard resolution…I agree with displaying images large, but does displaying them too large defeat the purpose a bit? Now I wish I could afford a new desktop!

  • Richly textured, beautifully composed, well conceived poetry with a camera… and a light and fleeting touch, unusual with medium format, that suggests ephemerality even more than the subject matter. My hat is off to you, Lori.

  • I admire photographers that do their own printing… especially in a wet darkroom. To me, it’s part of the picture taking process. Don’t drink the tea though.

  • Some stunning stuff there.

  • for danny who asked if any of these were documentary moments…

    i rarely have the exact image in my mind and then go out and get it. but it starts with an idea and i get to the location and since i’m often shooting children…cool stuff happens. if i just place them within the area i want to work…i just have to watch and be ready.

    there are images such as “Butterfly” where i set it up and shot exactly what i had hoped for.

    again…thanks to everyone for the warm reception.

  • jewels..
    yes all of it!
    I would love to see
    what you would shoot with
    your teenage son….
    how would you capture those teenage years??
    barbed wire fences

  • ha! yes, a 13 year old boy is my new challenge. he is in the shot of the boy holding up the world. but this summer i’m hoping to turn the camera to him and see what i can get.

  • Having actually held these prints in my hand, it is wonderful to read this praise for Lori’s work. I think her work is a dream. She sometimes thinks those of us who love her are deluded. You can’t know how much your review and comment on her work means to her. Thanks for showing up and please pass it on.

  • Beautiful light, beautiful tonalities, beautiful photography.
    My favorites are 3, 4, 9, 11, 17 and 20.


  • Just really lovely imagery. Nothing more to say really. Just lovely.


  • I really appreciate the craft that shines through these images; they are magical vignettes…

    A you say, interesting to compare how they ‘speak’ to us; I’m not sensing ‘safety’ or ‘vulnerability’ but, for reasons I can’t rationalise, I feel ‘loss’ as I look at them. Beautiful…


  • Lori, Wow. With Ray LaMontagne playing in the background as I viewed this … wow, perfect. I’ve often wondered how would you interpret the soul of his work visually? Now I know. Such a sweet tender pathos of life to it all, as if there is an awareness that these beautiful moments are fleeting and there is joy in the moment but a consciousness of the place in the world and time as well. Trying to verbalize what cannot be is the best in photography … and this just does that so well. Deliberate and not staged at the same time. Just brilliant. You are a great artist. This reminds me much of Angela Bacon-Kidwell’s work seen here but different.

    Lori, I know a loft in New York where these would look brilliant someday and while Mr. Harvey is of course the arbiter of all such things, I do hope you will support Burn by submitting this work for his new gallery. Maybe he has not committed to this brilliant idea of his completely but he really must. Was that too direct? Apologies … but this is so, so good.

  • Friend,
    In all our years, we couldn’t begin to count the times we have looked up at each other to say, “can you believe how beautiful this is?” And now your crazy magic box with a hole in it provides the proof.
    I’ll leave the technical review to the pros and say that I am absolutely bursting with pride for you.
    Congratulations on this beautifully done project.

  • young tom…i would of course contribute to harvey’s brilliant idea. i hope it all comes together.

    funny you were listening to lamontagne. i just recently discovered him and LOVE his music.

    to you and everyone here who has commented…it is so heartwarming to know that this project is understood. it is ongoing…but i, like most artists, get stuck or doubtful. to know that there is value not only in the effort, but the actual images…its a powerful thing to pull from.

  • Or I meant to say … this visualizes what cannot be verbalized … okay, still awkward but perhaps you know what I mean :))

  • Some beautiful images, though not really my thing.

    I wish I could still print in a darkroom but after thirty years of crappy closets I came to the conclusion that I had thoroughly poisoned myself (my wife said when she met me my skin was gray) I sold a state of the art set up with sadness and will probably never go back.

    So I salute you on your craft – just be sure to play it safe for your and your children’s sake. I highly recommend the use of a respirator, esp when toning no matter how good of ventilation you have. I really do miss printing though and am so glad to see it here.

    All the best,


  • * 3 is wicked ……

  • amazing images… i loved this..

  • Lori,

    Wonderful photos! I agree with Young Tom – when I saw your essay I was reminded of Angela Bacon-Kidwell’s Traveling Dream essay. The very best to you.

  • I too am a big fan of Angela’s work. We just discovered each other a couple of months ago and keep in touch. I’m flattered by the comparison.

  • Beautiful work Lori. I absolutely love #1! I also really like 6 15 and 18. I like the ones that have a Sally Mann-esk (if thats how you say it) quality to them. For me they do anyway.

  • hi lori,

    i have been a BURNer for only a few months and a newbie to photography. will never make it as a photographer i think because i am too impatient.
    i come to BURN because i need to write. (i write on the comments of course) most of what i write though i keep to myself. prompts are what i look for especially when i am feeling down and despondent but also when i am happy and manic – well i guess that is all the time.

    you have provided me with — hmm, a shot in the arm especially today when i needed it the most.
    thank you for the inspiration… well thanks to angela kidwell-bacon too. i wrote about her pictures too. with her essay, i felt angst. i still was drawn to her images. with yours, i felt tender angst but more on the comfort side of the spectrum.

    vulnerability especially in our young ones is always precious. we ourselves are still vulnerable but as adults we have to fend for ourselves now and in the process have gotten burned more than once in a while, we turn cynical once in awhile for self protection. but i feel so much responsibility for my own children as such this has decided who i am now, i am not too risky anymore, not impulsive, less selfish, not too nonchalant, a lot more sympathetic, empathetic and but watchful still.

    your essay has given me hope and as a sequence to uganda the previous essay, this is quite apt to just yank me towards salvation.

  • Delicate and beautiful!

  • Lovely photographs. As a young photographer (well, early 20s young..) I look forward to the time in my life where emotion and love and the acceptance of vulnerability flow more flawlessly into my work. This essay is mature and realized.


    “The power of the mind is only as great as its expression and its depth only as deep as it dares to extend itself in its exposition and loses itself.”–Hegel

    And though we negotiate the world through our senses and reason and intellect, it is through our imagination, that lass-bucket drop plunging into the well to retrieve back the muck and shadow and scatter web and water sustenance, that we begin to make way and make place inside the woody forest of this world. What I love best about Lori’s work, as photographer, as editor, as viewer, as simple dreamer, is the richness of her fecund imagination. That is: the dreaming, pitched mother who has gather the bones and sticks and pebbled-places of her children’s lives, and through the net of seeing, set them free. As parents we set aside ourselves the goal of protection and safety, though we know it is a ruse. We dream the dreams of our children, for we know that they are scattering far afield from us, that they are branching out long-wide our sheltered twilight of seeing. For they are the seekers, and we, if we are fortunate, the ones who shall be bequeathed their sought-out discoveries. This world, a firmament not only of dreams, but about the that we, as adults, have that someone, though our bodies are tapped and wearied, we can rum-run that which our children so easily alight upon: the spreading the world’s nimble fingers and unstuck thoughts, rick, rap, rattled.

    A cousin to both Mann’s Immediate Family work and Bacon-Kidwell’s maps and dreams, Lori has set upon a different kind of diary and map-making. To set, beneath a canopy of flora and fauna and fever, her own nimble negotiation clockwork dream……found in the musical chambers of these children’s live and bodies and ticking…

    lovely work…and I am thankful and happy Lori has shared her work with us…


    p.s. Now, running, to get back to the burning-behind-the-Burn-scenes…and Monsieur Amigo Dah. :))..

  • Lori, great work!! Pacience :-) I really like it. A vision like Sally Mann and her family, not far from that… Deep portraits. That is photography!


  • Original and very poetic work, Lori. I like the dreamy and mystic quality of your photos and the care with which you do them. The one with the wedding dress #16 is one of my favorites. Bravo!

  • Lori, they’re beautiful pictures. 3, 5, and 8 are the ones I like the most.

  • Beautiful stuff. Love love love #12.

    Almost makes me want to dust off the medium format stuff and set the darkroom back up…..well, maybe when I retire.

    Gordon L.

  • I don’t think any one focused body of work (mine I’m speaking of), has been seen by so many photographers. The feedback is tremendously helpful and gratifying. I always hope that my photographs are universal and that the viewer can see more than just the portrait. This day of “hit-refresh-hit-refresh” has been a freaking blast. Thank you burn.

  • Lori,

    This is a powerful and personal body of work to be proud of…I watched the slide show immediately again and was as amazed as the first time around. The feeling and emotion is almost palpable, some truly magic moments…Technically speaking, your sense of light and strong composition really make your sentiment come alive. The wonderful thing is that you have years in which to develop this further…this is just the beginning…I look forward to seeing this (and your children) grow…

  • Very proud of my wife and her work.

  • good stuff lori – i’m sure you already have, but i would urge you to look at Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and Dan Winter’s portraits of his son (hard to find online, but there is a back issue of “stop smiling” magazine (its a photography edition featuring an interview with william eggleston) that has several frames.

    also, kind of more f+cked up and experimental, but Roger Ballen might be worth a look-see as well.



  • Lori, I don’t want to read anyone else’s comments. To be honest, I don’t care what they think. Not about your work, that is. I want to stay cuddled within my own innerness and try to speak of what you’ve touched in me. A sense of wonder, of mystery. Innocence and apprehension. Questions with no need for answers. That place within my child self that hides from adults because they’ll make fun of her. Lightning bugs in a jar and the croak of frogs at night. Dreams of flying with feathered wings.

    You have tapped into a realm half remembered and all I can say is go deeper, ever deeper. Don’t stop now and don’t worry about what anyone about your work. Not even me. You know who you are and what you need to say. Just say it and say it and say it…


  • very strong work, beautiful images, quite moving, but perhaps a bit too reminiscent of sally man, jock sturges, andrea modica….

  • Oh my god… I am mesmerized by your square…
    upon these images, I glaze over in stare
    absolute beauty, hold the earth close
    artful images to which I’m betrothed…
    you know me already, having pierced my soul…
    my thoughts and fears tucked into this bowl…

    and then you hand it to me…

    gingerly and with love,
    from sea to see, there you stand, yielding the key…
    sharing our mutual vulnerability…

  • ah poetry… inspired
    i am home

  • Yes, Gracie…I knew it would escape me on one of these threads…
    inspired, true :)

  • I join brian above.

    Also technicals could be much improved. Which is in my eyes in these kind of pictures necessary.

    But dont get me wrong, overall very good work!

  • Dietmar,

    technicals could be MUCH improved? Interesting, I don’t agree. As far as the other criticism, I think you could level that charge against anyone, and overall it is a bogus thing to say.

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